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provenance and pop up

Melbourne has really come alive this week – overflowing with bouquets of spring blossoms and bursts of spring fashion ! It’s been a hectic time in the city centre, with the very beautiful people swarming to stylish events for our annual Melbourne Spring Fashion Week (MSFW, 3rd to 9th September 2012). In addition to the runway shows and many associated events, MSFW has also hosted an excellent Business Series programme

popUPshops Melbourne attended three events in the Business Series – the first of the breakfast seminars on 3rd September, a panel discussion on Tuesday and finally a Networking evening on 5th September (a big Thank You to the charming hosts at MSFW !) A common topic of discussion at each of these functions was the threat of degeneration – the slow decline of retail precincts as sustained economic and cultural changes impact heavily on traditional business models – and on our local initiatives to foster re-vitalisation

The “Provenance and the Power of a local Brand Strategy” breakfast was launched with a welcome address from The Right Hon our Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle. Mr. Doyle knew his stuff pretty well – sprouting impressive and optimistic facts about our fair city, including the 5% retail vacancy rate. If the stats are to be believed (and why not ?), Melbourne seems in pretty good shape and has a positive outlook for the medium term. And it all makes sense, the proof is out there. Sure, there are retail properties vacant in the CBD now, but the truly popular precincts (that is – our laneways, shopping centres and the major retail streets) seem as crowded and healthy as ever. As Mr. Doyle said… we love to talk about our “secret laneways… but they’re not secret… just try getting through (the crowds in) Degraves Street !”

Sarah Filley and Alfonso Dominguez from popuphood spoke of their recent experience at the other end of retail prosperity (ie. doom !) – starting almost from scratch in an area of Oakland California where “there was no retail” (and what impact did that have on community cash flow ? – “there was no flow !”) In 12 short months they have led a minor re-vitalisation within their neighbourhood, by enlisting collaboration with local stakeholders (landlords,
government, start-up businesses and artists). Their model is based on a ”curated” solution – providing budding businesses with premises on a 6 month rent-free trial and also intensive marketing support. It wasn’t easy for them, starting with meeting the landlords to argue “you’ve got no tenants now and no income – so what have you got to lose ?” popuphood is currently in the 2nd phase of 6 month trials but signing up permanent tenants along the way, as some of those original businesses settle in and prepare for longer-term commitments. These guys are now taking the experience well beyond their original neighbourhood and looking at other areas within Oakland and other US cities. They seem to have covered a lot of ground around Melbourne too – from the SO.ME pop up collaboration at South Melbourne Market, up to Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street and beyond…

On Tuesday a group of us met again to discuss local initiatives – identifying some Melbourne precincts in danger of falling into retail despair (and yes, some have already fallen… sorry Robert), how to invigorate and engage communities into action, encourage local government initiatives and investment – and address the concerns of landlords and agents who only want to see commercial benefits in the short-term (ie. ROI – now !)

Though I do think Melbourne has nowhere near the desperate situation experienced in other parts of the world. We don’t have a significant percentage of CBD vacancies and our retail is relatively healthy (except for poor results from major department stores – but I’d argue those may be attributed to their own “cultural” failures rather than economic factors…). In the global context it does seem that Melbourne is indeed fortunate – but we mustn’t rest on our laurels. There’s no reason why retail decline should set in on Melbourne – our city has a long history of style and sophistication, with just the right sense of adventure and quirkiness in the blend. Other cities are embarking on innovative schemes to draw visitors and consumers back to shuttered neighbourhoods and dusty streets. In Melbourne we don’t have such despair but instead we have initiative, and a great sense of community spirit. We should use our talent and resources to re-invigorate before it’s even necessary ! Start with “pop up solutions” if that’s what will create a buzz – but then all stake-holders must follow through with meaningful and sustained commitment !


featured image : (2012)


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